Pharisees, Scribes, and Modern Disciples

In TYD’s post below, “A Prophet is Only a Prophet When…,” one of the commenters, identified as Jeremiah Rush, left the following thoughts:

If the Jesus as described in the new testament existed today, he would assert the mormons (and most of christianity) are like unto the ‘pharisees, scribes, and hypocrits.’ Monson as a “prophet?” A penthouse on temple square, wool suits (a wolf in sheep’s clothing), driving around in limos, having his picture in millions of people’s homes, etc–certainly not like Jesus. It all reminds me of this: ‘Those who love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues (or chapel, or conference center)’ and further, ‘ they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ The mormon leadership are a bunch of geriatric, brainwashed and brainwashing men. If he is a prophet, then I’m a f@#$%*&% saint ;-) But of course you will now say, ‘he is fallen, and hath a devil.’

This interests me because it has some elements of what is an enduring appraisal of Christian leadership: that the leaders in whatever is the current age do not conduct themselves as did Jesus or the original disciples. And in fact, many books and articles have been written exploring precisely this point, and suggesting precisely what Mr. Rush suggests: Christ would disown or be disowned by Christianity.

What I wonder is this: Under what circumstances is this a legitimate evaluation?

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Edward Tullidge’s Miltonian “Gathering of the Grand Council of Hell”

In 1858 Edward Tullidge wrote to Brigham Young to volunteer himself as the epic chronicler of the Restoration. The off-and-on again British convert to Mormonism enthusiasticaly described his fifteen-thousand-line epic style biography of Joseph Smith, “The Prophet of the Nineteenth Century.” He compared his work to Homer and John Milton and promised more to come.1 Evidently, Tullidge never completed the project.2 Fortunately, however, one chapter was published in The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star in January 1858. I located a scanned image via Google Books,3 but since I couldn’t find a reliable transcription online I decided to furnish one for your reading, copying, and pasting enjoyment. I numbered the lines for easier reference. For this post I put together a quick comparison between Tullidge’s chapter and Milton’s Paradise Lost. [Read more...]

Guarding the Temple: Our Procession to a Better Understanding; a Response to David L.

David L., who recently joined M*, and I have been having a really wonderful conversation about methodologies of interpretation and comparison. My response got too long, and so I thought it would be better to put up as a full post of its own. At issue, I believe, is how LDS should understand themselves and their relationship to the ancient world, David and I representing two different approaches that are currently wrestling for primacy in LDS scholarship more generally. Let me summarize the main outline of the methodogical issues at stake.
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Ten Tidbits About Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament

1. The biblical, or so-called “canonical,” prophets–those whom we tend to consider the prophets–in many instances (e.g., Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea) are not called prophets (Hebrew nabi’) in the superscriptions to their books, or elsewhere, and indeed probably would have rejected this label for themselves. For instance, in a third person biographical narrative about Amos, he rejects the Bethel priest Amaziah’s suggestion that he is a nabi’ (See Amos 7:10-17; cf. Hosea 9:7; Micah 3). This is because… [Read more...]

Isaiah 7:14 and Scriptural Hermeneutics

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14, KJV)

Isaiah 7.14 is one of three prophetic sign-acts in Isaiah chapters 7-8 in which Isaiah of Jerusalem associates or gives an ambiguous or multivalent ominous name to a child as a means of sharing the divine message to his contemporaries.  The historical context of these chapters is the Syrio-Ephraimite War. At this time Israel (the northern kingdom), Aram, and others, joined in an alliance  to combat the rising Assyrian threat headed by king Tiglath-pileser III (r. 745-727 BCE).  The kingdom of Judah (the southern kingdom) would not join the alliance and so Israel and Aram sought to remove the new Judean king, Ahaz (r. ca. 734-715), from power in order to install a more politically favorable king (referred to by Isaiah as the son of Tabeel; Isa. 7.6) who would join the alliance to stop Assyria.  Ahaz, however, appealed to Tiglath-pileser III for help against Israel and Aram and submitted to Assyria as vassal to suzerain, stripping the temple in the process in order to pay the necessary tribute (2 Kgs. 16:17-18). Assyria would go on to conquer Aram and reduce Israel to vassal status before Israel’s final destruction in 722/721 BCE by Sargon II. [Read more...]

The Dumbing Down of Mormon Books, Made Easy!

A recent book review of Eric Shuster and Charles Sale’s The Biblical Roots of Mormonism describes the book as “a 258-page overview of about 350 Latter-day Saint beliefs referenced in the Old and New Testament.” On the face of it, the book sounds like an extended exercise in proof-texting. I’ve talked about a few potential problems with such easy “likening” elsewhere but I haven’t read this particular book myself, so I can’t comment on its quality. Instead, I want to focus on the rhetorical approach of the book as described in the review. The book is an example of a larger trend in the marketing of recent LDS books generally: the marketing of stuff “made easier.”

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Scriptural Authority, Normativity, and Hermeneutics: Women and the Priesthood

Introduction [1]

The Bible often privileges men as normative for what it means to be human, frequently considers women as inferior to men, and presents God in overwhelmingly male terms. For the contemporary believer who is committed to the full equality of men and women the problem is not simply one of reconciling isolated patriarchal, sexist, or misogynistic biblical passages with an egalitarian or feminist perspective, but the revelatory nature of the biblical text itself.  “How can a text that contains so much that is damaging to women function authoritatively in the Christian community as normative of faith and life?” (36). A theology of Scripture that takes this problem seriously must reject the traditional understanding of Scripture as divinely revealed in verbal form to its ancient authors lest the pervasive androcentrism, patriarchalism, and sexism of the biblical text be understood as divinely revealed.  1) What then does it mean for Scripture to be the “Word of God”? 2) How can the Bible function authoritatively for the Church? 3) And is the Bible materially normative for modern faith and practice? [Read more...]

Research and Responsibility

Recent discussions about the influence a vague entity called “Correlation” has on various Bloggernaclers got me thinking about the problem of responsibility in research. I admit I’m personally less likely to blog about certain sensitive LDS issues. For example, there are elements of temple ritual I feel comfortable writing about and other elements I don’t. I personally don’t feel like my reticence is due to being trapped in the Panopticon. I admit I’m less likely to be flippant or brash about topics that may be particularly challenging to the faith of other Latter-day Saints, and beyond that, to the general faith of other believers as well (except for the new atheists. I wouldn’t mind trying to burst bubbles there; perhaps I should be more careful). The question I am confronting is the responsibility I have to the effects of the research I create, participate in, or disseminate.

I’d like to hear reactions to an assertion made back in 1929 by sociologist George Lundberg:

“It is not the business of a chemist who invents a high explosive to be influenced in his[!] task by considerations as to whether his product will be used to blow up cathedrals or to build tunnels through the mountains” (quoted in John Durham Peters, “The Part Played by Gentiles in the Flow of Mass Communications: On the Ethnic Utopia of Personal Influence,” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, November 2006, 100).

I disagree with Lundberg’s vision of a social scientist’s business. What if we extend the scope from social scientists to historians, theologians, philosophers, political scientists, etc.? Should these people allow considerations of effects to influence what they write or the way they write it? What undergirds the attitude  that “truth will always win out”?  Are there potential downsides to the desire to “let the chips fall where they may”? Of course, the question is not always whether a particular sticky subject is handled, it can also involve how it is handled. But is it our business to even consider such things when researching and writing?

The Truth of Personal Narrative

Bart Ehrman has pointed out that the popular view of Paul and his conversion makes it difficult for historians to evaluate what actually happened to make him “turn around.”  In the scriptural record Paul does not present himself as a guilt-ridden legalist whose realization that the law was impossible to keep led him to find forgiveness in Christ and motivated him to bring the good news of release to those burdened with guilt complexes like his own.  Ehrman calls this view “fiction” and “widespread misperception” and instead directs us to Paul’s own accounts found in Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26.  The problem is that these accounts are difficult to harmonize; as they differ in several details.  Paul’s recounting of the event is suspect because he is remembering the event long afterward and reflecting upon it in light of his later experiences.  Such a conundrum finds a parallel in our own Mormon foundation narrative of Joseph Smith’s first vision.  In Joseph’s case, he leaves at least seven narratives, each a bit different, each a bit contradictory of the others. [Read more...]

(Re)writing the Bible in Antiquity and Today


The New Testament writers and early Church Fathers used the Septuagint (LXX) for proof texts and for personal and communal worship.  The LXX is based on the Old Greek translations of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures [Read more...]